Remembering the victims

Violence: With a memorial wall, the state's attorney's office in Howard pays tribute to those killed in the county.

April 22, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Leeann Kotler looked up at the baby-blue wall filled with white doves and aimed her camera at one bird in particular - the one painted in memory of her friend, Nancy Riggins, who disappeared from her Elkridge home nearly eight years ago.

Taniah Taylor, who was just 6 years old in 1990 when a soldier killed her father, Joseph Taylor, in a fit of random violence, made the long trip from her home in Pennsylvania's Poconos to see her father's dove.

Percy Thomas traveled from New York City to see the birds painted in honor of his brother and 8-year-old niece, Ed and Olivia Thomas, both victims of a drunken driver's actions on New Year's Day 2000.

Yesterday, all three said they were grateful that the state's attorney's office had remembered their loved ones - who died violent deaths in Howard County - even years later.

"It hurts to be here," Thomas said during a ceremony dedicating the dove-filled wall in the state's attorney's victim witness unit. "But thank you from the bottom of my heart for remembering and speaking to my brother and niece."

Officials with the Howard prosecutor's office formally unveiled the memorial wall yesterday with a ribbon-cutting to mark the observance of this year's Victims' Rights Week. With family and friends of some of the 53 victims whose deaths are marked on the wall crowded in the office, Howard prosecutor Timothy J. McCrone said his office wanted to "pay tribute" to those who died violent deaths in the county.

"In this office, victims are never forgotten," he said. " ... Each one of these names has a special connection to people in this office."

The brainchild of Shirley Harbin, who leads the victim witness assistance unit, the wall includes victims' names from 1979 and from as recent as last month.

But the wall is only partially complete. Harbin said she has found more victims' names from the past 25 years. "I can't say I'm happy to be here because of the circumstances that brought us all together," said Walter Vassiliev, whose 17-year-old son, Ben, was fatally poisoned in January last year. "But I'm glad to have the opportunity to get to meet everyone ... and find a way to offer each other some understanding, consolation and hope."

Kotler, who came to the memorial with two of Nancy Riggins' friends, Susan Austin and Karen Edwards, took photos for Riggins' mother and sisters, who could not attend. A Howard County jury convicted Riggins' husband of murder in 2001. Her body has never been found.

"It was just important for us to be here for Nancy," Kotler said. "We still miss her dearly."

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